« Etouffee | Main | 36-Hour Pork Belly »


In the world of design, designers aspire to make their products intuitive. When you get to a website, or first open a new software program, you should intuitively know how to use it. For instance, in addition to having products that look good, Apple gets a lot of praise for its intuitive design. When you open iTunes, or buy an iPod or iPhone, there's basically no learning curve. It just works. You can put an iPhone into your parents hands, and they can use it without reading a manual.

We don't talk about intuitive design enough in the food world. While it can be fun to put something totally unexpected down in front of diners and have the waiter tell them how to eat it, that isn't the pinnacle of creative food. On the one hand, it is liberating not to have to put a couple things on a plate and give the diner a fork, spoon, and knife, and have them instantly know how to go at it. When they don't immediately know how to eat something, it forces them to stop and reflect and enjoy the food more. Alinea is the model of this kind of cuisine, and Grant Achatz has spoken extensively about how he loves challenging diners and thereby making them focus more on the food and come to it without expectations. But again, that shouldn't be the ultimate goal.

The ultimate goal should be to put something completely unfamiliar in front of someone--something they've never seen, in a form they've never seen, that is eaten in some way they've never eaten anything--but that, because of the way it is conceived, crafted, and presented, immediately makes apparent the method by which it should be consumed. No matter how different the dish looks, there should be no learning curve or manual needed for how to eat it. It should be intuitive.

One example of this principle: if different elements are to be eaten together, they should be presented in such a way that they would naturally be combined while eating. If different elements are not meant to go in the same bite, they should be separated on the plate in such a way that they don't unintentionally run together while the dish is being eaten. If you separate two elements on opposite sides of a plate, with white space in between, then the diners are less likely to move things across the plate in order to combine them. If you put a quenelle of some sauce next to a piece of meat, barely touching the meat, it will be apparent that it is meant to sauce the meat. If you put the quenelle somewhere else on the plate, everyone is likely to try eating the quenelle by itself.

Creativity in plating has increased rapidly in the last few years. But chefs need to strive for more than just a presentation that looks good and is compelling. It should also be intuitive to eat.

Posted by Barzelay on 2009/01/24 @ 14:46 | Comments (0) | Food Politics and Culture